Friday, 3 April 2020

Devout at a distance in contagion-hit Brunei

Muslim nation quickly dispensed with notion it had divine protection against Covid-19 and implemented a model pandemic response


When Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah delivered an address at the opening of Brunei’s annual legislative session on March 9, he expressed gratitude to “God” that his nation remained free of Covid-19 infections. At the time, the oil-rich Borneo sultanate was still one of the last countries in Southeast Asia without a confirmed case.

The monarch began an otherwise down-to-earth speech on the economic repercussions of the viral global pandemic for energy-dependent Brunei by ascribing the Islamic nation’s virus-free status to divine “protection” gained through prayer.

“Brunei is constantly praying, in our mosques, houses and assemblies. With continued prayers, Brunei will continue to receive divine blessings and protection,” said the sultan, one of the world’s few remaining absolute rulers, in his speech officiating the Legislative Council (LegCo) sitting.

Hours after his speech, Brunei confirmed its first Covid-19 case. Within days, there were dozens of new cases linked to Bruneians returning from a mass gathering of pious Muslims in Malaysia organized by the missionary Tablighi Jamaat movement in late February, Southeast Asia’s largest coronavirus cluster to date with confirmed infections in multiple countries.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Malaysia, Singapore doomed to Covid-19 recessions

Palliative stimulus measures will help but prognosis for both trade-geared Southeast Asian nations is negative 2020 growth


Malaysia and Singapore, two of Southeast Asia’s worst virus-hit economies, are reaching for policy levers to mitigate the economic impact of their respective Covid-19 outbreaks.

Both are projected to slip into recession this year, despite the recent announcement of multi-billion-dollar stimulus packages, with no sign yet that Covid-19 cases have plateaued or that business is set to return to normal in either trade-geared nation.

The stimulus packages rolled out on both sides of the causeway late last week follow earlier spending plans announced in February, largely in response to an initial loss of tourism due to the sudden departure of Chinese travellers after the pneumonia-like disease first erupted in Wuhan, China.

The health emergency has since swept the globe, with coronavirus cases sweeping Europe and the United States now seen as the epicenter of the World Health Organization (WHO)-declared pandemic.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Covid-19 curve still rises under Malaysian lockdown

Southeast Asia's worst virus-hit nation extends a nationwide lockdown as Covid-19 infection rate continues to climb


Confirmed Covid-19 infections have more than doubled in Malaysia since unprecedented nationwide restrictions on movement went into effect on March 18, shuttering non-essential businesses and bringing military patrols onto the nation’s streets.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced today (March 25) that his government’s Movement Control Order (MCO) would be extended to April 14, two weeks beyond its initial March 31 cut-off date.

Foreign and interstate travel is banned under the order, and people may only leave their homes for essential shopping, which has brought the economy to a near standstill. Police have so far arrested 110 people for flouting the order.

The trend of new coronavirus infections “is expected to continue for a while before new cases begin to subside,” said the premier in a televised address. Malaysia has confirmed 1,796 cases of the disease, the highest number in Southeast Asia, while the death toll stands at 19, second only to Indonesia, where 58 have died.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 23 March 2020

Singapore’s model response faces viral second wave

City-state’s Covid-19 containment has been widely lauded but returnees from overseas pose potent new risk


In an unprecedented move for one of the world’s most open economies, Singapore will deny entry and transit to all short-term visitors beginning Tuesday (March 24) to prevent a “second wave” of Covid-19 cases linked to arrivals from countries with mushrooming infection rates.

Around 80% of new cases between March 19 to 21 came from inbound Singaporeans and residents, the Ministry of Health (MoH) said on March 22. Those permitted to work in the city-state and their dependents are exempted from the new travel restrictions provided they are employed in essential fields such as healthcare and transport.

While the wealthy island nation has earned plaudits for its success in curtailing the outbreak without imposing draconian lockdown measures, it is now bracing for an economic downturn with forecasts of a recession on the horizon. Singapore’s leaders are also mulling whether and when to call a general election which by law must be held by April 2021.

The city-state currently has 455 confirmed Covid-19 cases, a figure that has more than doubled over the last week concurrent with a global surge in transmissions. The stricter entry measures were announced a day after the nation acknowledged its first virus-related deaths: two patients, both elderly with underlying conditions, who perished on March 21.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

From putsch to pandemic in quarantined Malaysia

New lockdown to prevent 'second wave' of Covid-19 cases has spread panic and confusion in Southeast Asia's worst-hit nation


Malaysia has imposed nationwide restrictions on movement to combat its worsening coronavirus outbreak, a move that has stoked panic and confusion and will severely impact an economy already staggered by political turmoil.

The Muslim-majority nation is now the worst hit in Southeast Asia with 790 cases and two fatalities, both announced just hours before the new restrictions on movement took effect at midnight on March 18. Authorities announced 117 new cases today (March 18).

Malaysians are now barred from all international travel until at least March 31 amid a shutdown of all non-essential businesses, schools and universities, and places of worship. It is the first time in the nation’s history such restrictions have been invoked to tackle a public health crisis.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who was sworn-in to office less than three weeks ago when the country had just 29 coronavirus cases, announced the sweeping restrictions in a televised address in the evening of March 16 in an effort to curtail an escalating “second wave” of infections.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 16 March 2020

Malaysia loses its grip on Covid-19 outbreak

Nation now has most virus cases in SE Asia with doubts rising about new government's ability to contain the spread


A sudden spike in coronavirus infections has triggered alarm in Malaysia, with the Muslim-majority country now reporting the highest number of Covid-19 cases in Southeast Asia.

The country experienced its biggest single-day jump in infections on March 15, with 190 new cases. That number rose again on March 16 (Monday) with 125 more infections, bringing the national total to 553.

Until now, Malaysia had a relatively low number of coronavirus cases and appeared to have well-managed the situation through selective travel restrictions and a transparent response that earned World Health Organization (WHO) praise.

The rapid surge in new infections follows a tumultuous and unexpected shift in political power in Putrajaya, which saw the country operate for two weeks without a Cabinet or a health minister. For Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s weeks-old government, the widening outbreak is proving to be a baptism of fire.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

‘Malay first’ government takes hold in Malaysia

New PM Muhyiddin Yassin has appointed one of the least diverse Cabinets in multi-ethnic nation's modern history


As the dust settles after a tumultuous political transition, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s new coalition government has taken shape against a backdrop of rising economic uncertainties. Muhyiddin announced his Cabinet appointments on March 9 after pledging to unveil a “clean” line-up that would rise above ethnic and socio-economic divisions.

Among those returning to power are politicians with the United Malays Nasional Organization (UMNO), the former ruling party that expelled Muhyiddin in 2016 after he spoke out against top-level corruption. UMNO was trounced at the May 2018 polls, leading to the rise of the now-ousted Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition.

Malaysia’s new premier had served as deputy to disgraced ex-leader Najib Razak, who now faces trial on numerous corruption charges related to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.

Though many who served in Najib’s discredited administration have risen again under Muhyiddin, those selected to join his Cabinet were reportedly required to pass criminal and graft screenings.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 9 March 2020

Is Malaysia’s position on MH17 tragedy shifting?

Trial begins for downing of Malaysia Airlines flight with a change in tone from Mahathir to Muhyiddin


A long-awaited court trial of four suspects implicated in the July 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 began today (March 9) at The Hague in the Netherlands. Three Russian nationals and one Ukrainian have been indicted for the murder of all 298 passengers aboard the ill-fated flight, which was shot down over eastern Ukraine more than five years ago.

“This is a significant milestone toward finding the truth and establishing justice for the victims of the flight MH17 tragedy,” read a March 7 statement issued by Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “For justice to prevail,” the statement said, will require a “credible and transparent process based on the rule of law.”

The statement is one of the first issued by Malaysia since Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was sworn-in on March 1, and signals a distinct new tone from outgoing premier Mahathir Mohamad’s outlier position on the proceedings.

During his nearly two-year tenure, Mahathir alleged that the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) leading a probe into the disaster had been biased and politicized against Russia. Though economic ties between Moscow and Putrajaya are modest, the two countries forged closer strategic links during Mahathir’s first and second premierships.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Muhyiddin off to polarizing start in Malaysia

New premier expected to favor Malays over minorities in what could be an especially short-lived government


“I am not a traitor,” declared new Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin in his first televised address since his March 1 inauguration. The newly appointed leader was addressing criticism from his immediate predecessor, elder statesmen Mahathir Mohamad, who in recent days has accused him of “betrayal.”

Mahathir, 94, resigned last week in the midst of a political crisis that shattered his Pakatan Harapan (PH) governing coalition, with Muhyiddin, his home minister, filling the vacuum after being appointed by the nation’s constitutional monarch. That, however, hasn’t stopped the wily nonagenarian from challenging the legal standing of Muhyiddin’s days-old premiership.

Mahathir’s PH coalition, which he claims has support of at least 112 of Parliament’s 222 lawmakers, the minimum needed to form a simple majority government, has promised to launch a no-confidence debate against Muhyiddin at the legislature’s next sitting.

Analysts expect Muhyiddin to delay a scheduled March 9 session of Parliament to bide time to win support from East Malaysian lawmakers whose backing would numerically give him a clear and comfortable majority.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Sunday, 1 March 2020

Muhyiddin’s rise undoes Malaysian democracy

New premier's appointment installs a non-elected government and restores scandal-tainted UMNO to power


In a stunning outcome to a week of unprecedented political turbulence, former interior minister Muhyiddin Yassin was sworn in as Malaysia’s eighth prime minister on Sunday (March 1) after being appointed by the nation’s constitutional monarch.

The move forces out elder statesman Mahathir Mohamad, 94, who was elected prime minister in a historic May 2018 victory that unseated the long-ruling Barisan Nasional coalition but resigned on February 24 amid political machinations that aimed to deny the premiership to his promised successor Anwar Ibrahim.

Muhyiddin’s appointment by Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, known as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, installs a new coalition government without an electoral mandate and will effectively return the scandal-plagued United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party that was ousted at the ballot box less than two years ago to power.

Protests against Muhyiddin’s assumption of the premiership have already erupted, with activists criticizing the backdoor maneuvering of political elites they regard as unethical and unaccountable, a rally cry that could galvanize larger demonstrations in the days ahead.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Malaysia’s shattered politics on a razor’s edge

Mahathir and Anwar both bid to form new government but the impasse increasingly points to snap polls


A high-stakes political impasse in Malaysia, with interim leader Mahathir Mohamad and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar Ibrahim making separate bids to power, promises more twists and turns that could eventuate in the formation of a new government or snap polls.

The multiracial Southeast Asian nation was thrust into sudden turmoil when Mahathir resigned on February 24 in the fallout of a failed attempt by his purported supporters to form a new coalition government to block a promised transfer of power to Anwar.

The backdoor move caused the collapse of Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition and opened a power vacuum that both veteran politicians are now bidding to fill.

In a televised address to the nation on February 26 as newly appointed “interim” premier, 94-year-old Mahathir explained the factors behind his decision to resign and apologized for the political discord now roiling the nation.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Inside story behind Malaysia’s political meltdown

Government insider tells Asia Times what did and didn't happen on Malaysia's Feb 24 night of the long knives


Malaysia has been cast into political disarray following Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s shock decision on February 24 to resign as prime minister, a move that shattered his Pakatan Harapan (PH) ruling coalition and opened an unprecedented power vacuum in the Southeast Asian nation.

While simultaneously giving up and retaining power, Mahathir could now be in a position of strength amid indications he intends to form a national unity government. Though with allegiances in flux, the situation may yet go awry for the 94-year-old leader, who Malaysia’s king immediately named as interim premier following his resignation.

The political turmoil follows an abortive bid by political forces purportedly loyal to Mahathir to form a new coalition government that would have explicitly excluded his presumed prime ministerial successor, 72-year-old Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar Ibrahim.

But Mahathir, his coalition allies later attested, did not endorse maneuvers to form a “backdoor” coalition government that would have entailed joining hands with the scandal-plagued opposition party United Malays Nasional Organization (UMNO) and its allies, which the PH coalition toppled in a historic election in May 2018.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 24 February 2020

Mahathir still on top as knives out in Malaysia

PM's shock resignation and return as interim leader puts nation's fractious politics on new treacherous course


In a shock move with wide-reaching ramifications, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir tendered his resignation today (February 24), setting off heated speculation about his motives and where the country’s suddenly tumultuous politics are headed next.

The move followed an abortive bid by political forces purportedly loyal to Mahathir to dissolve the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition and form a new one that would explicitly exclude his presumed successor, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar Ibrahim.

Crucially, Mahathir also stepped down as chairperson of his own party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), a key component of Pakatan Harapan.

The political situation remains fluid and uncertain, with possible scenarios ranging from anti-Anwar politicians bidding to form a new coalition government, a “hung parliament” where no political party or coalition commands a majority and thus forces a snap election, or Mahathir retaining the premiership indefinitely.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Mahathir, UMNO reunite in Malaysia political coup

Pending 'backdoor' coalition aims to thwart prime minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim's bid to power


“Betrayal.” That is the word Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar Ibrahim used to describe the seismic political realignment taking shape in Malaysia that could soon see the formation of a new coalition government that excludes his party.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, which took power in May 2018, is widely expected to be dissolved following a tumultuous day of political intrigue and maneuvers to form a new federal government on February 23.

A series of meetings involving major political parties and a rival faction of PKR led by deputy president Mohamed Azmin Ali eventuated in an audience with Malaysia’s constitutional monarch, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, fuelling speculation of a “backdoor” bid to form a new ruling coalition that would reunite Mahathir with the long-ruling United Malays Nasional Organization (UMNO).

“We were shocked today by developments that, to me, were a betrayal because promises were made,” said the 72-year-old Anwar in a Facebook Live broadcast on Sunday evening, referring to repeated vows by Mahathir to eventually step aside and hand power to Anwar.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Friday, 21 February 2020

Singapore seeks to spend its viral blues away

City-state launches stimulatory 'Unity Budget' to stave off a coronavirus caused recession and pre-election political fallout


Singapore had earlier viewed the start of a new decade as an opportunity to rebound from last year’s anemic growth that nearly knocked the city-state into recession. Then came the coronavirus, or Covid-19, curveball.

The global health emergency is quickly evolving into an economic one which has sent Singapore’s political leadership scrambling to devise countervailing stimulus measures to mitigate the fallout, significantly as the nation enters an election cycle.

With the unveiling of a so-called “Unity Budget” earlier this week that includes an S$800 million (US$575 million) virus containment package, Singapore’s prime minister-in-waiting, Heng Swee Keat, appears at first blush to have stuck the landing.

“We will put in every effort to slow down the spread of the virus,” said Heng, who is currently finance minister, upon delivering a more than two-hour budget statement in Parliament. The 58-year-old is set to become Singapore’s next leader as the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) prepares to hand power to a cadre of younger ministers soon after the next polls.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Why Mahathir may not step aside for Anwar

Malaysia's succession plan is in doubt as resistance mounts to a prime ministerial handover


In one corner is Malaysia’s 94-year-old premier, Mahathir Mohamad. In the other is his nemesis-turned-ally and presumed successor, 72-year-old Anwar Ibrahim.

When the two long-time rivals last traded figurative blows in a spectacular 1998 feud, the latter landed in prison with a literal black eye. This time around, Mahathir claims, it’s the media that is pining for a fight.  “If Anwar and I were to fight in a boxing match, you will be even happier because you can write more stories,” the premier recently jested to reporters.

Mahathir prefaced his remark with an oft-repeated vow to step down from office after Malaysia hosts the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in November. But despite his recurrent promise of a smooth leadership transition, the country’s rumor mill continues to spin wildly with whispers of conspiratorial plots and backroom deal-making to thwart Anwar’s bid.

Voices on both sides of the political aisle, meanwhile, are calling for Mahathir to continue as prime minister for a full five-year term rather than step down to make way for Anwar’s ascension.

The rising uncertainty threatens to hit stability and investor sentiment, with some analysts now predicting that Malaysia’s first post-independence change of government could end in a single-term administration.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Singapore’s model response can’t stop viral panic

City-state’s virus containment is widely lauded but small nation still has among most infections outside of China


With 50 confirmed coronavirus cases, among the highest worldwide outside of China, Singapore’s management of the health emergency is shaping into a key test for the city-state’s political leadership ahead of a soon anticipated general election.

While the wealthy island nation has won wide praise for its containment effort, seen in free face mask distribution and cash allowances for those in quarantine, it has not yet immunized Singaporeans against panic and fear.

Long queues formed in supermarkets as shoppers cleared shelves of toilet paper, instant noodles and rice in a spree of panic buying on February 7 after authorities raised the nation’s disease outbreak alert level to “orange” after an uptick in cases involving local transmission of the disease to people with no travel history to China.

DBS, Singapore’s biggest bank, was forced to evacuate 300 staff from its headquarters at the Marina Bay Financial Center on February 12 after an employee tested positive for coronavirus. The bank said it was conducting contact tracing in relation to the infected employee, while evacuated staff have been advised to work from home.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

How scandal-hit AirAsia could fall even further

Shareholder lawsuit against bribery-tainted company execs could hit budget airline’s shares


When is a bribe not a bribe? According to Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who controversially chose to weigh in on a bribery scandal involving top executives at budget airline AirAsia amid ongoing official probes, a bribe is only a bribe when an inducement is pocketed for personal gain.

“I hear there are allegations that AirAsia is involved in corruption. I am hesitant to comment, but usually, when governments buy equipment, we always ask for an offset,” Mahathir said on February 6. “If the money we obtain does not go into our own pocket, but instead is meant for a certain purpose, then it becomes an offset and this is not bribery. That’s my view,” he said.

The premier’s remarks were widely seen as tacit approval of AirAsia business dealings that British prosecutors at the United Kingdom’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) have deemed as fraudulent.

Bribery claims involving two still unnamed AirAsia executives came to light late last month after French airplane maker Airbus admitted to paying US$50 million to secure a large aircraft order with the budget carrier.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

AirAsia in a tailspin amid Airbus bribery claim

Budget airline pioneer Tony Fernandes steps aside while successful carrier he launched goes into free fall


Malaysian mogul Tony Fernandes, one of the aviation industry’s best-known executives, temporarily stepped down on February 3 as chief executive of the AirAsia budget carrier he co-founded amid US$50 million bribery allegations involving Airbus, the world’s largest plane maker.

The bribery claims involve two unnamed senior AirAsia executives and were brought forward by prosecutors from the United Kingdom’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) on January 31, which said Airbus had used hidden payments to win deals in a pattern of worldwide corruption. Airbus admitted to the broad allegations as part of a record $4 billion settlement to avoid criminal prosecution.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has initiated an investigation into the claims, with its chief commissioner Latheefa Koya issuing a statement saying the anti-graft agency is in touch with UK authorities over the matter. Malaysia’s aviation and securities regulators have also launched independent probes into the spiraling scandal.

As global carriers grapple with lower margins and air travel disruptions linked to the worsening coronavirus epidemic, allegations of bribery and corruption have cast a cloud of uncertainty over one of the best-known brands in Asian aviation and put AirAsia Group Bhd and its long-haul subsidiary AirAsia X Bhd’s share prices in a tailspin.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 3 February 2020

Malaysia, Singapore brace for China viral contagion

Both SE Asian nations poised to take an economic hit as coronavirus fears spread


As China’s coronavirus epidemic spreads and global panic rises, with over 17,000 infections and 360 fatalities, countries in neighboring Southeast Asia are rolling out travel restrictions and bracing for contagion effects.

While the wider region has pursued closer ties with Beijing in recent years under the auspices of the Belt and Road initiative (BRI), the coronavirus scare is seeing countries turn away an otherwise lucrative stream of Chinese arrivals.

Malaysia’s government, which began the year with the goal of attracting 3.48 million Chinese tourists by the end of 2020, is now weighing an economic stimulus package to cushion the expected negative impact of the worsening viral outbreak.

With a total of eight cases, all involving Chinese nationals, it has yet to enact more stringent measures such as blanket entry restrictions for Chinese passport holders, as imposed by some other regional countries.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

China’s coronavirus response under a microscope

Experts say Beijing’s ‘cordon sanitaire’ approach to preventing a pandemic could harm more than help


China is under increasing pressure to show that its disease control system is adequately coping with the outbreak of a deadly new coronavirus, as its confirmed cases rises above 4,000 and over 100 killed by the pneumonia-like disease.

Chinese officials have in recent days admitted shortcomings in their management of the outbreak, raising concerns of a possible global pandemic despite Beijing’s bests efforts to lockdown cities in Hubei province, including the reputed epicenter of the disease.

Zhou Xianwang, the mayor of Wuhan, a Chinese mega-city of 11 million people, even offered to resign on Monday after conceding that the city government’s disclosure of information had been “unsatisfactory.”

Despite a lack of reliable data about the still poorly understood coronavirus and a means of large-scale testing for it, officials in Wuhan had assured citizens that the virus was not widely transmissible after it was initially identified on January 10.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Pandemic fear dampens Chinese New Year cheer

With an incubation period of 14 days, coronavirus infections may be much higher than the over 1,300 reported


Fears of a global pandemic are rising as authorities in China struggle to contain the spread of a pneumonia-like illness with a travel lockdown widening to include a dozen cities in central China.

Fifteen new deaths were announced by health officials in Hubei province on January 25, the start of the Lunar New Year holiday, raising the death toll to 41. All but three of the victims of the newly identified coronavirus perished in Wuhan, the central Chinese city of 11 million at the epicenter of the outbreak.

Though more than 20 cases of the virus have been identified elsewhere in Asia and as far afield as Europe and the United States, fatalities have thus far been confined to China. There is no vaccine or specific treatment for the Wuhan coronavirus, though China has confirmed it can be transmitted through human contact.

The majority of fatal cases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), are among the elderly with pre-existing chronic conditions that would increase their susceptibility to infectious diseases.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Friday, 24 January 2020

Malaysia in the middle of Israel-Palestine conflict

Malaysia opens its doors to renegade Israeli academic Ilan Pappé to promote Palestinian causes


In ordinary circumstances, Kuala Lumpur would be an unlikely place to find an Israeli historian. Malaysia and other Muslim-majority countries in Southeast Asia have long been steadfast in their support for the Palestinian cause and generally refuse entry for Israeli passport holders as part of a policy of diplomatic non-recognition of Israel. Ilan Pappé, however, is no ordinary Israeli historian.

The 65-year-old academic has published over 20 books on the history of the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular and has been labelled a “traitor” by some in his country for his opposition to Zionism, Israel’s national ideology and the explicitly Jewish character of the Israeli state it denotes.

“It is an ideology which believes that as much of Palestine as possible should be a Jewish state, and in it there should be as few Palestinians as possible, to put it simply,” said Pappé in an interview with Asia Times, relaying a central theme of his “Palestine Is Still The Issue” lecture delivered recently in the Malaysian capital.

During his visit, Pappé met privately with veteran politician Anwar Ibrahim, the man widely presumed to become Malaysia’s next prime minister. Anwar wrote afterwards in an Instagram post that Pappé’s books On Palestine (2005) and The Idea of Israel (2014) had “opened my eyes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Phase one fanfare masks phase two gloom

US-China ‘phase one’ agreement eases but doesn’t resolve core trade war differences


US President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu Hei signed a “phase one” trade agreement on January 15, sealing a deal that will begin to ease an 18-month-old trade war between the world’s two largest economies, one that has rattled supply chains, roiled financial markets and cast uncertainty over the global economy.

“With this signing, we mark more than just an agreement. We mark a sea change in international trade,” said Trump in remarks delivered at the White House. “Together, we are righting the wrongs of the past and delivering a future of economic justice and security for American workers, farmers and families.”

China’s vice premier remarked that the deal was “mutually beneficial” and demonstrated the ability of the two countries “to act on the basis of equality and mutual respect.” Liu added that he hoped “the US side will treat fairly Chinese companies and their regular trade and investment activities” in the spirit of healthier Sino-US ties.

In a rambling address peppered with references to domestic partisan politics – Democrats in the US House of Representatives voted to send impeachment charges to the Republican-controlled Senate as the phase one signing ceremony took place – Trump said negotiations for a more comprehensive “phase two” deal would begin in the near future.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 13 January 2020

Secret tapes put new spin on 1MDB scandal

Recordings appear to show Malaysia’s ex-premier Najib manipulating probes into state fund fraud but are likely inadmissible in court


Malaysia’s criminally charged ex-premier Najib Razak admitted he was “shocked” when anti-graft investigators last week released explosive audio recordings of private discussions he had with several prominent public personalities, the latest twist in the multibillion-dollar corruption scandal involving state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) recently made public nine recordings of telephone conversations taped between January and July 2016, which the agency claims constitute attempts by the then premier to manipulate investigations into 1MDB and conceal other fraudulent acts linked to the alleged mass pilfering of public funds.

While captivating the Malaysian public and setting social media ablaze with memes, the recent disclosures divided legal experts with some claiming the anti-corruption agency’s decision to publicly release the recordings constituted a breach of legal ethics, sparking debate about privacy rights and laws permitting surveillance in Malaysia.

The bombshell recordings, which MACC chief Latheefa Koya said were verified by forensics experts, were of separate telephone calls between Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor, United Arab Emirates’ crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, and then-senior deputy public prosecutor Dzulkifli Ahmad.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Thursday, 9 January 2020

US-Iran climbdown gives markets cause for pause

Investors react positively to de-escalation but remain on guard for possible new energy market disruptions


Asian economies began 2020 with a brighter outlook and hopes for reversing fortunes amid a truce in last year’s bruising US-China trade war. But the shock killing of top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani by a US drone strike abruptly checked sentiment as markets weighed the new unforeseen risk of a possible US-Iran war.

Global markets and oil prices have whipsawed in recent days on Iran’s retaliatory strike against American military bases in Iraq and follow-up conciliatory statements from US President Donald Trump and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, signaling, at least for now, that the hostilities will not spiral into full-blown war.

Asian stock markets fell hardest on the US’s initial attack, while oil briefly surged above US$70 a barrel for the first time since the attack on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia last September.

But markets rallied and oil prices eased to around $65 per barrel when Trump claimed on Wednesday that Iran was “standing down” after no Americans were harmed in the targeting of US installations, and Iran’s Foreign Ministry said the strikes “concluded” Tehran’s response to Soleimani’s assassination.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 6 January 2020

Limp economy enlivens Singapore election season

PM Lee Hsien Loong’s PAP expected to win 2020 snap polls despite the city-state’s shaky economic outlook


Singapore’s economy expanded at its slowest pace in a decade in 2019, a downturn that could have implications for the long-ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) at snap elections expected later this year.

The US-China trade war, weaker global and Chinese economic growth, and a cyclical downturn in the electronics sector rattled the city-state’s export-oriented economy last year. Singapore’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew just 0.7%, down sharply from 3.1% in 2018.

With an expansionary budget anticipated in February and a general election expected to be called within months, fourth quarter data points to a modest recovery in 2020 that will depend largely on an array of uncertain external factors.

“Despite the lackluster growth performance, the economy is slowly getting out of the woods,” said Irvin Seah, senior economist with DBS Bank in Singapore. “Barring any unforeseen negative shocks, growth momentum is expected to pick up gradually in the coming quarters.”

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

E-scooter ban puts Singapore in a slow lane

New ‘zero-tolerance’ regulations on the popular vehicles will hit hard thriving food and other speedy delivery services



Beginning January 1, Singapore will enforce a “zero-tolerance” ban on the use of personal mobility devices (PMDs) such as electric scooters, or “e-scooters”, on pedestrian footpaths.

The urbanized city-state had been actively fine-tuning regulations on the usage and safety of the widely popular devices, but in a surprise policy U-turn ordered an immediate sidewalk ban on all e-scooters in November.

The move followed a spate of injuries and fatal accidents involving PMDs, as well as fires in public housing blocks caused by faulty e-scooter batteries. While pedestrians broadly welcomed the ban, it sparked a furor among food-delivery riders whose livelihoods depended on e-scooters, as well as retailers of the once-ubiquitous vehicles.

Since an “advisory period” on the use of e-scooters took effect on November 5, the devices have largely, though not entirely, disappeared from public footpaths. Touted as a game-changer for short-distance travel, PMDs were seen as a convenient solution to last-mile commutes between a person’s home and their nearest train or bus station.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a journalist and correspondent with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.